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I know that there is a written exam that you are required to take, but do you have to go to a class in order to study for that test? If I'm really good at just learning from a book, can I just learn that way, maybe take a couple practice tests and then take the exam? Or are they going to need proof that I went to some certified class?

More subjectively: Assuming it's allowable, is it a bad idea?

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When it comes to regulatory questions, make sure to let us know what country you're in! – egid May 17 '14 at 4:25
Added that in :) – Jay Carr May 17 '14 at 4:58
up vote 11 down vote accepted

In Canada, you are required to have 40 hours of ground school instruction. See Canadian Aviation Regulations 421.26 (3)(a):

completed a minimum of 40 hours private pilot aeroplane ground school instruction on the following subjects ...

Ground school instruction is defined as (CARS 400.01):

classroom-type instruction generally given to one or more persons and covering an organized program of lectures, homework or self-paced study that adheres to an approved training program.

So, you can learn by self-study, but it needs to be an approved training program. This would mean that a flight instructor would need to sign off on the self-study program.

The FAA says:

If you are unable to attend a ground school, the self-study method can be satisfactory, provided you obtain the proper study materials and devote a reasonable amount of time to study.

The regulation is at Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations, §61.35(a)(1):

Received an endorsement, if required by this part, from an authorized instructor certifying that the applicant accomplished the appropriate ground-training or a home-study course required by this part for the certificate or rating sought and is prepared for the knowledge test ...

Because in both cases an instructor must sign off on your preparedness for the examination, and passing the examination demonstrates that you meet the standard, in my opinion, the only thing that would make self-study a bad idea is if self-study is not an effective learning method for you, which could delay your training.

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Worth noting for the FAA answer, doesn't directly address part 141 schools (though the result is effectively the same -- you still need an endorsement showing you can take the exam). I think all Part 141 changes is who can give the instruction: ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?node=14: – dougk_ff7 May 17 '14 at 5:29
I was surprised to learn this. Just for a comparison, there is no such requirement for ground school in Australia. One can sit the PPL theory exam without any sort of recommendation. Pilots do need to pass a BAK (Basic Aeronautical Knowledge) exam through a flight school, and some schools insist on formal ground school for that. For me I did the initial theory in a school but the more advanced work by myself. I think the best option depends on the person. – Ben Feb 18 '15 at 10:36

As noted above, a ground school is not required by the FAA but a sign-off by an instructor is.

I do not know if this is still valid, but a decade ago, one of the big pilot training companies (King? Sporty's? Gleim?) would send you the equivalent of an instructor's endorsement after you took that company's ground school course in the comfort of your own home. So at least back then, yes, if you sent in the required completed home school tests, you did not need to attend a ground school class.

Is it a good idea? I vote NO. the reason is that these courses teach pretty specifically to the tests and little else. There is a lot of knowledge that you won't get by taking these courses without an instructor even though you can pass the test. Remember that they are teaching the MINIMUM you need to be safe. Choose well.

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I used the Sporty's iPad app and it has a feature which sent you necessary sign off (which you print out) once you had scored a minimum of, I believe, 85 on at least three practice tests. I presented mine when I took my written and it was accepted without question. – Peter Hansen Feb 10 '15 at 22:17

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